Editorial: CT fumbled gun background transition, but sellers should stay calm

Ready, fire, aim.

This mangled version of the traditional phrase is at times an unfortunate summation reflecting the launch of state initiatives, but never more appropriate than with the new firearms background check system.

Everything involving obtaining a gun in Connecticut stalled this summer just as demand is spiking. Buying a gun, applying for a pistol permit or transferring a weapon is not happening efficiently.

“The timing of this upgrade is ill advised because (of) the record number of sales continuing to occur throughout the state,” Lawrence Keane, senior vice president for government and public affairs for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, wrote in a letter to Connecticut Public Safety Commissioner James Rovella.

While we’re never going to embrace a spike in gun sales, this system should work seamlessly before its use is mandated.

The state counters that the problem was fueled by the sales rush. Rovella’s office outlined other reasons: The transition from the outdated system, and training of staff.

The transition, though, was not a surprise, and the staff should have been trained before the launch. It was slated for July 13, and delayed another 24 hours.

Some retailers told Hearst Connecticut Media they were unable to reach the state’s Special Licensing and Firearms Unit by phone. One reported trying to call 100 times an hour, adding to 1,000 failed calls a day. Another was able to break through with three staffers calling to make background checks.

The volume of calls could not have helped. It also fueled enough frustration that the NSSF quickly threatened to take legal action.

As Connecticut residents transition from social isolation from the COVID-19 pandemic, gun sales for the first six months of 2021 reached 163,000. Similar sales in the latter half of this year could put a number on the final tote board beyond the record 317,000 background checks recorded in 2016.

The goal, of course, is to make the process more fluid, so retailers should eventually be able to get products into the hands of consumers more quickly. While we prefer a delay to skipping vital checks, this should never have happened.

A state spokesman says the existing program was a decade overdue for an upgrade. The new one would finally allow online transactions.

Gun sales will remain a polarizing issue. Connecticut’s problems come at a time when talks have ended between U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, to increase the number of gun sales that require background checks.

Both sides of this debate made mistakes. Connecticut should have been prepared before subjecting dealers to a program that wasn’t ready for prime time.

And the NSSF — which is all about gun sales — could serve its members and public better by being a voice of reason.

Acting rationally (by not making 1,000 calls a day, for example) is in everyone’s self-interest. No one should need a reminder of the core function of a firearm. Patience is preferable to a mistake in a gun sale.